I am aware that I often write more words than my readers will read. That may have happened this morning. So, I am taking a little bit of this morning’s post and turning it into a separate post all of its own. In the discussion of divorce, this passage is key.
God Hates Divorce? – Malachi 2:16
Malachi 2:16 has become a formative verse for many who wish to enter a blanket condemnation of divorce. The statement made in this verse couldn’t be any clearer. “I hate divorce.” If God hates divorce, it must be sin, right? One major commentator says that this passage is the foundation for a biblical view of divorce.
I am going to argue that, in the words of Inigo Montoya, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” The popular translation is a mistranslation that puts words in God’s mouth that he did not say.
Of course, divorce was not part of God’s original intent and is always evidence of sin on one side or both participants in the marriage. God’s gift to humanity – companionship, partnership and pleasure as a man and a woman are united as one – has been rejected. That which God has made into one flesh is now being amputated into two – an act of spiritual violence. No biblical observer would argue that God does not hates sin and its consequences.
But the problem here is simple. The statement in this passage, “God hates divorce” is not in the original text. It is an unfortunate translation and you will not find the phrase in most newer translations.
The King James version may have gotten the ball rolling with its third person translation:
“For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away…”
Other translations followed this, but turned the statement into a first person affirmation.
“For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously.” NASB95
“I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, “and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,” says the LORD Almighty. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith. NIV84
But by the time the NIV2011 was published, a newer view of this passage had taken hold.
The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty. So be on your guard°, and do not be unfaithful. NIV2011
And my favorite translation has also adopted that reading.
For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.
The divorce in this passage was a particularly heinous form of divorce. Men were leaving their Israelites wives and marrying Canaanite women. Not only were they leaving the wives of their youth, but they were joining to women who would lead them into idolatry. It was the pattern Israel had followed in the period of the Judges and Kings and God did not want that to happen again. Israelite men were not only divorcing their wives, but were flirting again with the idolatry that brought such destruction on the people. Even if the traditional view of this passage is correct, it is questionable whether God’s condemnation of this specific type of divorce would serve as a universal principle.
But, is the traditional interpretation correct?
Which translation is correct?
The quote, “I hate divorce” is a bad translation of what the original Hebrew said. The newer translations have given what is probably a better rendering of the verse.
While I was never what could be called a Hebrew scholar, I took three years of the language long ago. From what understanding I have left after all these years, here is what seems clear to me.
The key here is the subject of the verb “hate.” Does God hate or does the verb refer to someone else? It seems clear that God is not the subject of the verb. It is not God who hates divorce in this passage, but a man who hates and subsequently divorces his wife. Let us examine this verse in brief detail.
After the opening conjunction, the verse throws three verbs together in a row. Literally, it says “For he hates to divorce, says the Lord.” The verbs “hate” and “divorce” mostly likely identify the man who is the subject of the main clause later in the verse, “covers his garment with violence.” In the context, it probably means,
“For he who hates (his wife) to (the point that he) divorce(s) (her), says the Lord, covers his garment with violence…”
The first verb, “hates” is a different verb than was used in Malachi 1:3 (Esau I hated). This verb is more visceral, an emotional disgust. In this context, it refers to a man who treats his wife as if she were refuse, throwing her away in divorce to marry a Canaanite woman.
It is a third person verb, “he hates.” This is key exegetical point. If God is the subject of the verb, and God is speaking, why does He not say, “I hate divorce.” God is not the subject of the verb. The subject is “he.” Who is “he?” The person who despises his wife to whom he committed himself, divorces her and finds a pagan, foreign wife – he is the subject of this verse.
That does not change the fact that God hates the kind of divorce that is going on in this situation, a man leaving his wife for another woman (or vice-versa, I assume). But there is no blanket statement in this verse that governs all our discussions on divorce. It seems that what is arousing the ire of God here is the infidelity of Israelite men. Not only were they leaving their wives, but they would soon be worshiping Canaanite gods. That is the focus of this passage.
So, to summarize, this verse makes it clear that God was angered by Israelite men leaving their wives for pagan, Canaanite women. This buttresses the original intent of marriage: one man and one woman, sharing a lifetime together. But, this verse is not the authoritative, blanket condemnation of all divorce that some have made it out to be.